Michael Bloomberg tells SA: Inaction on inequality could lead to uprising

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Cape Town – “Income inequality is a problem. If you don’t do something about it, they will set up the guillotines. Marie Antoinette’s life did not end well.”

That’s what Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and regarded as one of the richest people in the world, told a Cape Town audience on Wednesday during an an event with the theme “The Future of South Africa”, hosted by Bloomberg LP.

“People take money from the rich and give it to poor for selfish reasons. We don’t want them to set up guillotines, but people want jobs. It is about self-esteem,” he said. 

Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York, said the three biggest things people worry about in the world at the moment are climate change, then a possible nuclear war and then technology replacing jobs, according to Michael Bloomberg. 

“How do you create jobs in a world where it is easy to automate jobs which are easy to train people for? The future is scary and people worry that something will be automated and take their jobs.”

Growing employment 

Richard Brasher, CEO of Pick n Pay, said during a panel discussion at the event that, “One can get frightened when listening to Julius Malema talking to 80 000 people in a stadium”.

To him it is very important for business to help uplift communities so people can get to the point of looking after themselves. This would reduce social grants.

“Growing the employment base is critical. Reducing poverty is key,” he said. Yet, he pointed out that there will always be some form of inequality as one will always have some people doing better than others.

“If the youth has the will, industry can give them skills. They must, however, know that they need to work hard and be discipled and then they need an opportunity,” he said.

In his view SA needs a lot of labour flexibility, however, in order to benefit from export and other opportunities.

“It is also too difficult for international companies to send their own CEOs here when these CEOs will end up creating more local jobs,” said Brasher.

Multiple approach

Magda Wierzycka, CEO at Sygnia asset management, said during the panel discussion that there must be a multiple approach to SA’s economic growth.

“Business and government need to come to the party. Don’t rely on the international community. For instance, a lot of money can be deployed in infrastructure programmes,” she said.

“Make a law, for instance that 5% of pension fund investments must be in infrastructure. That should accellerate deploying money already in the country into projects that create jobs. I think with the new optimism in the country people will be more willing to do this.”

She said a sound process and system are needed and the confidence that money invested will not be wasted or stolen.

She would also like to see SA give tax breaks to lure international technology firms to come here.

“Make it easy to import skills to the country. These skilled people can be used to train our own youth,” she said.

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